Reflections on “blue” and the profound stages of meaning — beyond the color of the sea and sky — to encompass depth, stability, wisdom, faith, truth, redemption, and the natural world.

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Here is a definition of blue:

“the color of the sky and sea, often associated with depth and stability and symbolic of trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.”

Most often these days, blue is used as a adjective, to modify something else, typically thought of in a context of land, social behavior, conventionally green, and conceived to expand awareness of a vast other part of Nature, not so well known, and in danger of decline by ignorance and indifference. Hence various ocean-related projects: Mission Blue, Blue Ventures, Blue Mind, Blue Economy, Blue Ocean Society, Blue Ocean Foundation, Blue Ocean Institute, Blue New Deal, and many others, all devoted to ocean research, conservation, and public awareness, led by ardent advocates for a blue ocean future, and existing to redress this serious misunderstanding of the fulsomeness of Nature absent knowledge of the freshwater/ocean continuum. This work is important, global, and effective albeit to the limits of available funding, communications, and political receptivity. Let me honor and invite your support for each and every one of these without question.

But I would like to consider blue as a noun defined, the singular associations that are a whole phenomena in themselves. Depth, for example, seemingly obvious as measured by ocean soundings in which the earth’s highest mountains are submerged. But deep may have no limit to its value, an infinite dimension that extends beyond our imagined boundaries of observations and experience. To go there is to explore without inhibition from either mind or body. Stability is another unexpected meaning. The ocean is considered a place of constant movement, a dynamic of tide, current, wave, weather, transportation, war, exchange, and other forms of human intervention. But within, below, there may be a stasis of invisible systems in the darkness, unseen, certain, nurturing, a place with the quietude of the womb, a place we all once knew but can’t remember.

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Pure Nature, then, as in the deep sea, or deep forest, as wilderness, suggests that in the noun there is a place beyond the symbolic, a scape for trust, loyalty, wisdom, for confidence and intelligence, for faith and truth. These each have bearing, as values, on human behavior. When we mistrust, or are disloyal, or are weak or stupid or faithless, we deny the truth of the relationship between our selves and the environment that sustains us. Denial renders us lost and vulnerable to the surface, to the seductive, unnatural aspects of human society like excess, greed, class and ethnic division, inequity, and injustice. In this time of pandemic, I have considered the idea of “Nature’s vengeance,” an inevitable reaction to the myriad insulting, consuming, destroying, and other eco-cidal activities of our time. Does our behavior, known and selfish, merit any outcome but that in our dark place we drown?

It is our natural predilection to survive. At bottom, we look upwards to see an ascending path of light, upward from death and emptiness to pass through stages of meaning, shades of blue, toward redemption. We return to essential values so cruelly corrupted and denied to restore what we call civilization. Call it a passage to heaven, out of the ocean to the heaven that is earth, both land and sea. Our most fundamental freedom is to choose. Let’s move beyond blue as an adjective, even as a noun; let’s express blue as a verb that drives transformation, regeneration, and renaissance. Blue will set us free.

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PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. “Shades of Blue” was originally produced as a World Ocean Radio episode.

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Dedicated to sharing information about ocean issues: climate to trade, culture to governance. The sea connects all things. Online at WorldOceanObservatory.org.

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